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Green New Deal Draft Commits to Net-Zero GHG, Leaves Out Fossil Phaseout Deadline

With Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey set to outline Democrats’ Green New Deal legislation within days, a recent draft includes a commitment to “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” but appears to leave out an explicit deadline for phasing out oil, natural gas, and coal development in the United States.

The change is a compromise that may make the proposal more politically palatable for many of the Democrats’ presidential contenders in 2020, as well as for labour groups that compose a powerful portion of the party’s base,” Politico reports, citing sources interviewed earlier this week. “But it will disappoint many of the progressives who have rallied and staged sit-ins in the Capitol in recent months to demand swift action on climate change.”

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The list of high-level ambitions on the draft includes an undertaking to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for a fair and just transition for front-line communities and displaced workers,” Politico states. The text “also opens the door to using still-unproven technology to eliminate carbon pollution from fossil fuel use—an avenue that many climate activists dismiss as an expensive dead end. But it does not explicitly call for eliminating fossil fuels themselves.”

Ocasio-Cortez spokesperson Corbin Trent said the goal is to enable fast climate action by relying on a range of technologies. But while continued reliance on fossil fuels is “not what we’re shooting for,” he said, “it’s had lots of different iterations. The goal is to be a zero-carbon economy in 10 years,” and “the door is open for technology to solve this problem, sure.”

Politico notes that Ocasio-Cortez’ campaign platform called for “100% of national power generation from renewable sources” and “decarbonizing” other industries by 2030. But the new language “could also leave more room for a slate of Democratic presidential hopefuls to craft a Green New Deal in their own terms in what is becoming a litmus test for the packed field of contenders. Several 2020 candidates, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), have endorsed the concept of a Green New Deal, but have not clearly outlined exactly what they mean.”

Against that backdrop, “the choices the lawmakers are making after consultation with a broad set of people in a budding coalition of labour, environmental, and social and economic justice groups lay bare the challenges of keeping diverse interests fully satisfied,” Politico states.

“There’s some real questions as to why there wasn’t a ban called for,” said Vijay Das, senior campaign strategist with progressive policy group Demos. The draft legislation “names the problem,” and “it sort of sets ambitious goals as a resolution, but it’s left for the parties to fill in the gaps and the experts to come.”

A 350.org spokesperson said the organization was pressing Ocasio-Cortez to keep the fossil phaseout language in the draft. “The language I read was clean, renewable, zero emissions—which is that ‘keep the door open’ approach,” said Policy Director Julian NoiseCat.

But Sean McGarvey, president of the North America’s Building Trades Union, “said his members who work in the oil and natural gas industry can make a middle-class living, whereas renewable energy firms have been less generous,” Politico notes.

“They’re talking about everything except the workers that are doing the work,” McGarvey said. “There’s going to be a 50-, 60-, 75-year transition—it’s not going to happen overnight, even if people want it to happen overnight.”